Ed note: It’s been a while since I have written here, partially because I have moved my Nashville social commentary to http://justnashville.wordpress.com, but partially because I really haven’t had much to say. I am hoping that recent changes in my schedule will allow for more commentary here on faith and life in in the United Methodist Church.
The other day I had the chance to talk to a person who is pursuing ordination in the United Methodist Church. This person has completed theological school and is competent in his understanding of the scriptures and ready to take on ministry in a local church. He/She is in the process, working to complete all the requirements necessary for first commissioning, and then ordination. She/He feels called by God, which has been affirmed in his/her ministry in the local church, and has potential as a leader.
However, when this person went to the pastor of his local congregation seeking a meeting with the SPRC and the Charge Conference for approval, he began to get a runaround. “Oh, it’s really hard to get those groups together,” he was told. “Assembling a Charge Conference isn’t easy — you probably need to wait until the fall when we have our regular conference…” the Sr. Pastor went on. The person seeking ministry went on to say that at no time had the Sr. Pastor of the congregation treated her/his desire to seek ordination as anything beyond an inconvenience to his ministry. There was no discussion of gifts and graces, and no expression of feeling one way or the other about the desire of his member to seek ordination. The only thing expressed was how much “trouble” it would be to convene a Charge Conference.
For the record, let’s say right up front that calling a Charge Conference is no big deal. It simply involves checking in the with D.S. to get authority, with the D.S. either authorizing the pastor-in-charge or another local elder to preside, AND giving two weeks notice of the meeting and purpose in worship and in normal communications channels. I’ve had to call several related to compensation issues in the past, and it took about 15 minutes of my time. It’s really doesn’t require much effort.
Of course, I recognize that I am hearing one side of the story, and that these situations are always much more complicated than appears on the surface. And yet, I have a sneaking suspicion based on the stories of others that these types of impediments to seeking ordination are more normal than not.
Of course, much has been written about the convoluted nature of our current ordination process, including the length of the process robbing potential candidates of the energy and passion that led them to seek ordination in the first place. It’s a difficult thing to balance, for we want to ensure that we ordain persons of competence and character and those traits aren’t determined quickly. On the other hand, we also need passionate proclaimers of the gospel, and there are parts of our process that can strip the passion out of the most emotional soul.
But what concerns me more is the lack of support at the local church level which fails to adequately move potential candidates into the process. There was a time in our history when one of the criteria pastors were judged on was the number of persons they had mentored into ministry, a leadership development metric that recognized that part of the pastoral role was developing new leaders for the church. For some unknown reason that seems to be no longer the case, and as a result dealing with issues of potential ministry partners can often be seen by local pastors as a complication to an already busy schedule. Yes, we give lip service to welcoming new clergy, but when our schedules are inconvenienced by the requirements of moving these persons on, sometimes we can be less than helpful.
Luckily for us, the passion of most candidates keeps them moving forward even when they meet resistance. The person I mentioned above isn’t giving up, and after talking with me is pushing more assertively for a called Charge Conference to be held next month. When the call of God is strong and fresh, these barriers are not insurmountable.
But what would it mean to our ministry as a denomination if rather than placing roadblocks and hoops to jump through, we embraced and celebrated the call of these new brothers and sisters? What would it mean to the vibrancy of our church if their energy and passion could be harnessed for the good of the Gospel rather than tested and wrung through the ringer? What would it mean to us for existing clergy to understand supporting and developing new leaders as less of an administrative burden and more as an opportunity for God’s kingdom reality to be revealed?
What are some of the impediments you see that dampen and discourage some to seek ordination in the United Methodist Church?